Lung diseases a major killer of women

Female MDR-TB Ward
KS Roy Hospital, Kolkata
Photo credit: CNS
Moses Wasamu, Kenya
(First published in The Star, Kenya on 8th March 2013): The International Women’s Day is marked all over the world to celebrate the positive developments that have taken place among women. Annually on March 8, thousands of events are held throughout the world to inspire women and celebrate achievements. However, despite the positive developments that have been experienced, women still face many challenges in life. The unfortunate fact is that globally, women's health is worse than that of men. Lung disease is one of the top three causes of death among women worldwide. The World Health Organisation says the leading risk factor is tobacco use, and the sad fact is that it is on the rise among women.

Dr Angela Jackson Morris of the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union) in the UK says women need to be protected not only from starting to smoke and quitting, but they should also be protected from second hand smoke.

“Smoking and tobacco is a major risk factor for lung diseases and likely to give you diseases like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and tuberculosis (COPD). Women’s exposure to not only tobacco smoke but to a smoky environment due to poor quality cooking stoves, or having to work in very dusty environment, makes them very vulnerable to a range of lung conditions,” she says.

She adds that around three million people die of COPD every year and its rates are increasing. Also 80 to 90 per cent of the world’s COPD are occurring in low and middle income countries. The reason for this is that the main cause of COPD is tobacco smoking—either using tobacco for smoking or being exposed to second hand smoke.

The side effects of COPD are varied – “People with COPD become very disabled as they are unable to breathe properly. They are not able to climb stairs, lift weight, walk, and a mother with COPD trying to lift her child all this becomes almost impossible,” she adds.

Tobacco use is the leading risk factor for lung disease, and it kills 1.5 million women each year. Some 200 million women now smoke (which is 20 per cent of the total number of smokers). A WHO smoking trends survey found that in about 75 of the 151 countries surveyed, the number of boys and girls who smoked were now equal.

Another risk factor is indoor air pollution from using solid fuels for heating and cooking.

The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves says nearly three billion people worldwide, mostly in low-income countries, rely on solid fuel for cooking, light and heating. An estimated two million deaths are caused by this indoor air pollution, the majority taking place among women, since they do the cooking and other household maintenance. Their babies and young children are affected.

The GACC says that research shows a strong association between indoor air pollution and chronic bronchitis and emphysema (COPD) and between exposure to coal smoke and lung cancer.

The Kenya Forest Service in 2011 said it was impossible to do away with charcoal since between 70 and 80 per cent of Kenyans depend on charcoal and wood as a source of fuel.

The World Bank in 2010 said biomass was the predominant energy source for Sub-Saharan Africa, and that it accounts for 81 per cent of the overall energy consumption in the region. The bank’s country director for Kenya, Johannes Zutt, said biomass will continue to play a major role in the energy sector at least until 2030.

In 2011, the Kenya Cancer Association called on the government to declare cancer a national disaster because of the rise in the number of cases among young people. The association added that if the government put more effort on prevention measures, a third of cancer deaths could be avoided through prevention while another third could be detected early and treated.

Last year, KenCASA vice chairman Dr David Makumi was awarded the prestigious International Society of Nurses in Cancer Care Past President's Award during the closing ceremony of the 17th international conference on cancer nursing in Prague, Czech Republic. Dr Makumi was recognised for his work in cancer advocacy, especially in lobbying for the passage and subsequent signing into law of National Cancer Prevention and Control Act 2012.

The two objectives of the National Cancer Prevention and Control Act are to promote public awareness about the causes, consequences, means of prevention and control of cancer, and to extend to every person with cancer full protection of their rights and civil liberties, by ensuring the provision of basic health care and social services.

Dr Makumi cited leading a healthy lifestyle, exercising, avoidance of alcohol and smoking and vaccination against cancer-causing infections like Hepatitis B and C, as well as eating healthy foods as among preventive measures against cancer.

The association called on parliament to fast track the implementation of the cancer control bill. Cancer is the number three killer in Kenya claiming an estimated 18,000 lives every year. The fight against cancer in Kenya will receive a major boost once the government introduces a cancer education programme in primary and secondary schools to create awareness about the disease and help to reduce cancer cases. This will be done in conjunction with the the ministry of health and KenCASA.

Moses Wasamu, Kenya
Citizen News Service - CNS
(First published in The Star, Kenya on 8th March 2013)